Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dividing Lines and Sidelines

TLS December 19 & 26, 2014

from Jacques Rupnik's review of Michael Zantovsky's Havel: a Life:

It was in the 1970s that Havel established himself as the leading figure of Czech dissidence, both as a political thinker and as the prime inspirer of the human rights movement that became known as Charter 77. His "Letter to Gustáv Husák" of 1975 was, of course, not a letter to the party boss but a lengthy and profound essay on governance through fear and the way "we go in for various kinds of external adaptation as the only effective method of self-defence". This idea of habituation and critique of the "as if" behaviour prevalent in society was futher developed in Havel's famous essay of 1978, "The Power of the Powerless". In the post-totalitarian system, he argued, "the dividing line is not just between the party-state and society . . .  it runs de facto through each person, for everyone in his own way is both victim and supporter of the system" [emphasis mine]. This deep insight provides the key to understanding Havel's controversial stance after 1990 on "lustration": his reluctance to engage in a radical settling of scores with the collaborators of the old regime.


from Kathryn Murphy's review of Ivan Klíma's My Crazy Century: A memoir:

An apocryphal Chinese curse wishes that enemies may live in interesting times. Klíma's times were decidedly interesting, and the curse had added implications for a writer beyond the dangers of censorship and persecution. Dissident literature carries what Klíma himself called, in an interview with Philip Roth in 1990, an "extraliterary appeal": in Czechoslovakia it offered testimony "on the side of truth", against the derangements of sense and language perpetuated by the regime, and bore the torch for a continuity of culture and civic society. For some writers in the West, this was cause for a peculiar envy: the curse of interesting times at least meant interesting material. and a context in which writing really mattered. But such expectations are also oppressive: demanding seriousness, political engagement and a sidelining of formal and aesthetic concerns. The political role which literature was compelled to play stifled assessments of quality, conferring value not always reflected in the work itself [emphasis mine].

Monday, December 29, 2014

Begin Again, Les Enfants Terrible, a Haiku

Begin Again (2013), watched last Saturday, would work well on stage but the music performances would have to be much better if they are "live." Film glamorizes and idolizes, so that the mediocre acquires a kind of mystification through focus and angle. The film is worth watching for the performances of Mark Ruffalo as a has-been music producer, and of Keira Knightley, the unrecognized talent. It is written and directed by John Carney.

On Sunday, I watched Les Enfants Terrible (1950), directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, based on a novel by Jean Cocteau. Everything rests on the poetry, for the story is highly unrealistic and its characters strongly improbable. But the poetry of the images is arresting. The discovery of the dead mother in her room. The siblings' own room, a ramshackle hideout, where they could enact their games of fantasy. The final image of the bamboo curtains crashing down. As Elisabeth, Nicole Stéphane is magnetic. Edouard Dermithe, who plays her brother Paul, is bland. He is too old for the part. If you need someone to root for, Jacques Bernard, the siblings' friend who loves Elisabeth hopelessly, is winsome.

strong night wind
the reservoir has become a sea
slapping the rocks and slurping

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Gifts

Gift exchange after a hearty Christmas lunch is a golden ritual at my lover’s parents. Having joined in the dusky afternoon twice, in the village of Cleves, twenty-one miles from Cincinnati, I thought I knew the form but was taken aback with delight when I opened a flat square box and found a bolo tie from his father. He had made it with braided brown and black leather at the ends of which coiled silver aiguillettes.

the slide of the bolo tie
is made of peach wood
from the tree that died

At the airport, as I thanked him for the stay, this veteran of World War II, a teacher of industrial arts, an avid card player, a father of five and lately a great-grandfather, said, Jee, you are like one of my sons. I did not mishear him, for my lover’s mother, knowing her husband’s deafness and darkening taciturnity, was so surprised that she repeated it to her son when he called her to say we are safely home.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Roberto Bolano's 2666

Finished reading 2666 and now I'm ready for 2015! It's a masterpiece from a master storyteller. I was completely absorbed by the different stories, the main ones and the many "digressive" others that enter so quietly and then leave with a memorable exit. The Part about the Critics, about a love quadrangle, is almost mathematical in the working out of the plot. The Part about Amalfitano is an acute psychological portrait of fear. The Part about Fate moves like an American TV series. The Part about the Crimes is almost unbearable to read as it recounts, like a police procedural, the serial killings of women in the city of Santa Theresa. The last section, The Part about Archimboldi, is the biography of a writer. Oscar Fate, a black reporter from New York is at the center of of his story, just as his section is at the center of book, his name raising obviously questions about fate and choice. Part 2 balances Amalfitano's fear of losing his daughter against Part 4's account of the killings, the longest section of the book. In Part 1, the critics Jean-Claude Pelletier, Piero Morini, Manuel Espinoza, and Liz Norton look in vain for their writer, who is only found by the reader in Part 5. We discover Archimboldi's reason for going to Santa Theresa, and realize fully that his quest is both foolish and heroic, that of a new Don Quixote.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On-line Pillow

THE PILLOW BOOK is now out in Kindle! Thank you, Team Awai Books, for turning the book of zuihitsu electronic!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jason Irwin's "Where You Are"

The virtues of Jason Irwin's poetry are again on full display in his latest work, a chapbook titled simply Where You Are (NightBallet Press). The feeling for the dailiness of life's disappointments. The devotion to a plain yet eloquent diction, associated with the working class. The discovery of metaphor in the course of living and writing. I have been reading Jason's work since we were together in the Creative Writing MFA at Sarah Lawrence College, and this new book strikes me as a powerful argument for persisting in the same vein. There are, however, at least two new features in this small volume. One is the addition of prose poems to a body of work mostly written in supple free verse. These prose poems provide formal variation, but they lose the intentness of Irwin's line breaks. The other is the subject of a marriage gone south. True to its gentle spirit, there is no recrimination or hysteria here, but an aching remembrance of loss. Where You Are, it turns out, is also the painful cry, Where Are You.


a cocker walking
on uncut claws
clicks like a clock

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï

Was captivated by Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï (1967) last night. Alain Delon plays Jef Costello, a contract killer who finally and ritually plans his own suicide. Beautiful minimalist cinematography, with a spare palette of silver and blue. Minimal dialogue too. But there is a less noticeable extravagance too. It seems that the whole of the Paris police force is out to get him. As one imdb comment notes, Costello is not just a child of Sartre. The killing of Reyes, in its magic impossibility, is pure Nabokov.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

New York Festival of Song

Attended the concert last night with HA. Kaufman Music Center and New York Festival of Song present "Harlem Renaissance" in song and poetry. Julia Bullock sang soprano, Darius de Haas tenor, and James Martin baritone. On the piano was NYFOS was Artistic Director Steven Blier and Associate Artistic Director Michael Barrett.

The Joint is Jumpin'
Music by Thomas "Fats" Waller; lyrics by Andy Razaf and J. C. Johnson
Sung by Ensemble

A Porter's Love Song to a Chambermaid
Music by James P. Johnson; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by Mr. Martin

Aint'-cha Glad
Music by Thomas "Fats" Waller; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by Ms. Bullock

L'il Gal
Music by J. Rosamond Johnson; poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar
Sung by Mr. Martin

Death of an Old Seaman
Music by Cecil Cohen; poem by Langston Hughes
Sung by Ms. Bullock

The Breath of a Rose
Music by William Grant Still; poem by Langston Hughes
Sung by Ms. Bullock

Day Dream (a concert highlight for me)
Music by Billy Strayhorn; lyrics by John LaTouche
Sung by Mr. de Haas

I'm Craving for that Kind of Love
Music by Eubie Blake; lyrics by Noble Sissle
Sung by Ms. Bullock

You're Lucky to Me
Music by Eubie Blake; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by Mr. de Haas and Ms. Bullock

I've Heard of a City Called Heaven (another concert highlight)
Musical arrangement by Hall Johnson; traditional poem
Sung by Ms. Bullock

Guiding Me Back Home
Music by Harry Revel; lyrics by Noble Sissle
Sung by Mr. Martin and Mr. de Haas

Mo' Lasses
Music by Charles "Luckey" Roberts; lyrics by Alex Rogers
Sung by Mr. Martin

In a Sentimental Mood
Music and lyrics by Duke Ellington and Manny Katz
Sung by Mr. de Haas

I'm Just a Lucky So-and-So
Music by Duke Ellington; lyrics by Mack David
Sung by mr. Martin

A Flower is a Lovesome Thing (another concert highlight)
Music and lyrics by Billy Strayhorn
Sung by Ms. Bullock

The Harlem Blues
Music and lyrics by W. C. Handy
Sung by Mr. Martin

My Handy Man Ain't Handy No More
Music by Eubie Blake; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by Ms. Bullock

I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town
Music by William Weldon; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by Mr. de Haas

Song to the Dark Virgin
Music by Florence Price; poem by Langston Hughes
Sung by Mr. Martin

What's the Use
Music by Florence B. Price; poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Sung by Mr. de haas

Black and Blue
Music by Thomas "Fats" Waller & Harry Brooks; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by Mr. de Haas

What Harlem is to Me
Music by Russell Wooding and Paul Denniker; lyrics by Andy Razaf
Sung by the Ensemble

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Draft of Preface for "Shadows of Japan"

The art of the haiku is the art of the unsaid. Saying so is already saying too much.

The Great Fish swims in the Great Ocean and the little fishes cannot understand it. How can it plunge to a depth of a thousand miles and still live? I can only dip in my pond to the distance of ten times my length. It cannot be true. And then they hear that the Great Fish changes into a Great Bird, and, as a bird, flies ten thousand leagues in a day. Now we understand, they say, it has been a bird all along.

After Zhuangzi

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Monday, December 01, 2014